Sun, sea, skyscrapers and Swarovski. That’s what may well spring to mind for many when they think about Dubai – a land that’s as paved with crystals as much as it is opportunity. 

Hands up who’s ever seen a studded supercar traversing Sheikh Zayed Road? Or been temporarily blinded (in a good way, of course) by a friend’s encrusted Louboutin Pigalles? If we didn’t know better, we’d say this here sandpit has a big part to play in keeping Swarovski in business. Something we couldn’t help but ask Nadja Swarovski, great-great granddaughter of founder Daniel Swarovski, during her visit to Dubai.


A Swarovski Elements chandelier in Cavalli Club, Dubai

The Middle East’s love affair with bling is both unashamed and relentless

“I have to say, I feel very underdressed!” Nadja laughs when we ask her about her perception of style out here. “I came from the airport to the hotel and was like, oh my gosh, don’t ever let me travel in my tracksuit again! And I definitely win the award for most boring shoes of the day.” She’s warm, bubbly and model-esque (a quick Google reveals a number of articles all mentioning her killer legs), but, far more importantly, she has the kind of commanding air that comes from intellect, vision and being responsible for revolutionising the family business. But more on that later.


1962: Marilyn Monroe sings Happy Birthday Mr President to JFK in a Swarovski-strewn dress.

Why the region gravitates towards sparkle unlike any other

“Is it because of the role of the female? There’s such an emphasis on hardcore femininity here. Anyone who wants to shine is the perfect customer for us. We see that in showbiz – if you look at the dress that Marilyn Monroe wore to sing Happy Birthday Mr President, or Michael Jackson’s glove. The poor CFDA Awards last year were totally overshadowed by Rihanna wearing that sheer Adam Selman Swarovski dress – which was totally fine by me, by the way! So that might be why. I also think it might be the heritage of jewellery wearing in this culture. Jewellery is so important. With the abaya you only have a few elements exposed – your shoes and your eyes, perhaps. So eyewear and footwear is important.”


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MJ in 1984 with his famous glove – now on display at Harvey Nichols-Dubai.

Crystals are an important accessory 

“If you’re feeling great and want to be noticed at a party, you just put crystal on. It’s a talking point but it’s also a subconscious attraction. That’s the reason for the invention of the necklace – because it’s nothing but mirrors that reflect the light back onto the face of the wearer. If you look at the history of jewellery it goes back to the role of women in society. If you look at the role of the female in art, it’s always either the mother or the wife – never the leader. She’s always the adornment of the man. That’s what we try to do with our jewellery – it’s very much about empowering women, not just with adornment but with intellectual knowledge and educating them about who the designers are.”


Related Story: Swarovski Celebrates 120th Anniversary With Exclusive Exhibit At Harvey Nichols-Dubai



Alexander McQueen’s S/S09 use of Swarovski.

Jewellery is something very close to the heart of the brand

Swarovski is a gargantuan, 120-year-old company that has had a hand in developing every single aspect of design, from architecture to art, fashion to technology (“We created a lens on the Mercedes S Class. And we even did Swarovski paint for cars but we had to stop as it was too refractive. Far too dangerous!”) Yet many people just think of the miniature crystal animals when they hear the name.

Nadja came on board in 1995 and began working with Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen on the Swarovski Collective, a prize awarded to young, innovative designers every year; “We have a heritage of working with the fashion community; my grandfather worked with Coco Chanel and Christian Dior directly. So by the time I was working in New York, I was, like, ‘Well, where’s my Dior?’ It ended up being McQueen. I needed someone revolutionary who believed in the product, could demonstrate the beautiful use of crystal within their creations and then have an impact on other designers. We used that example as a blueprint for many other projects – take an existing product, put it in the hands of very cutting-edge designer and ask them to make it relevant and contemporary. We did the same with chandeliers from Zaha Hadid. And the same with a jewellery initiative we do called Runway Rocks. And on and on…”


Mary Katrantzou’s S/S14 collection using Swarovski crystals.

The Swarovski spectrum is impressive to say the least

From sponsoring the British Fashion Awards every year to sprinkling the Oscars’ curtain with crystals, working with architects like John Pawson on sculpture… Swarovski has had an incredible trajectory that’s meandered from providing crystal for Queen Victoria’s dresses, to covering Liberace’s Roadster, and is now back firmly in the fashion sphere, no longer thought of as just a bit kitsch.

Does Nadja see parallels between this and Dubai’s mission to be seen as cool and, importantly, credible? After all, she reinvented the brand to some extent, changing perceptions of it to be seen as a crucial, ultra-chic commodity. What’s the secret to making people see you in a different light? “You just have to put the right lens in front of it. Or the right focus of where to look. For us it’s a challenge because people see our retail stores and think that’s the only Swarovski, but there are so many different elements. That’s why our new book is so important -– it really embodies so many good examples of how crystal can be used in a beautiful way. We just take those examples and really communicate them.”


The Swarovski Archive Design Exhibition will be open to the public on Level 2 in-store until December 23